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41 f

narrow escape, but in a way he’s been plunging off cliffs the world over, ever since. Sometimes he’s been just as lucky, finding places that are open and outward looking, defying expectation.

In New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, for example, he found

that the Womad festivals coalesced perfectly. He thinks there’s an acceptance in those places rooted in a self-aware population that embraces its immigrant past. And because here at the edge of the world, there’s a certain gratitude towards visiting international artists.

This is not the case in America, where Womad – apart from a few localised events, notably in broad-minded 1990s Seattle – hasn’t gelled. Americans, says Brooman, are encouraged very quickly to consider themselves as American and wary of ‘outsiders.’ Particularly since 11th September 2001.

Brooman himself knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Bullied at school in Buenos Aires where his family decamped when he was nine, it’s had a long-lasting effect, mostly, I reckon, in his recognition that the ‘outsider’ is also ‘us’. And that music is a fundamental means of interconnection – within ourselves and between each other, and to something universal that’s greater than us all. He says, “I’ve met people who have a power that’s not easily explained. The conduit is music. It’s more than just knowledge, there’s a transcen- dence and music has the power to tap that.”

Brooman’s passion and inspiration has undoubtedly helped artists across the world to connect with audiences internationally. Alan James notes Brooman’s unusual dedication and loyalty to artists as a promoter. “He would give them sustainable touring opportuni- ties, of which Womad was a part, providing a wider platform for artists to build their careers”.

rooman has successfully introduced his vibrant cross-cul- tural vision across the planet. Womad has taken root worldwide, changing the festival landscape and the out- look of audiences across continents. So it’s a shock to suddenly read that it was a sudden shock to him when he was asked to leave the organisation he co-founded after 25 years at the helm. He is discreet. This is not a book about blame, unless he’s dishing it out to himself. But it makes you think about the value of clear communication, (really what this book is all about) and the blocks to it in British culture.


Despite Womad’s continuing success, and the open-minded, all- embracing attitude of the Womad audience, it still stands alone in this country. That there are not more festivals like it is because Britain remains resolutely un-celebratory and mostly unregarding, of its multi-cultural identity (particularly in mainstream media). We live behind our mini ‘Trumpian’ garden walls generally unaware and often frightened of the diverse cultures of our neighbours.

Having spent his life trying to break down those walls (for which he received a CBE in 2008), Brooman’s not stopping now. He’s still banging the drums, both literally (his wife Mandy plays the bass) and metaphorically. Along with more book writing and educational pro- jects aimed at raising multicultural awareness, he’s looking again at the Bristol Recorder. A good idea really doesn’t stop being one. A record and news-sheet exploring Bristol’s own vibrant multicultural make up is to be released next year on National Record Store Day.

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about 50 more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

That’s not Thomas Brooman, that’s Hunter S Thompson, an unadulterated quote this time. But it’s Brooman who’s behind that wheel.

F Thomas Brooman and Amanda Jones at Womad/ Real World HQ 1991

Photo: Ian Anderson

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